Laura Jones, executive vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), credits her mom for her current career. An economics major with a strong interest in regulation control, Jones applied for a position at CFIB knowing little about the organization. “Then, when I was telling my mom about the job, she told me her business had been a member for years and couldn’t say enough good things about [CFIB’s] work,” Jones says. “I remember she said, ‘They gave my business a voice,’ and that was all it took—I was sold.”
Since that day, nine years ago, Jones’s passion for giving small-business owners a voice has helped her lead CFIB to the powerhouse position it holds as an advocate for more than 109,000 small businesses across Canada. “I’ve always said that small businesses need a strong voice at the table, because if you’re not at the table, then you will be dinner,” she says. “Through CFIB, we create an atmosphere of ‘Team Small Business’—you are no longer alone but part of a bigger force.”
Indeed, Jones’s unique background—the daughter of an economics professor and a small-business owner—gives her a personal perspective from which to frame her work with CFIB. “I’ve seen the risks and personal struggles of the small-business owner, and I also know all the good they do—they are the unsung heroes who are not recognized enough,” she says.
CFIB’s core advocacy work is framed by a grassroots effort that revolves around topics of concern for business owners across all levels of government, from municipal to provincial to federal. “Government representatives sometimes seem to think that people will just accept new legislation without a fight, and, honestly, business owners don’t have time to research laws or lobby because they are just dealing with the day-to-day issues of running a business,” Jones explains. “CFIB acts on behalf of the business owners’ interests so that they do have a say in legislation.”
CFIB also assists business owners with other challenges, including negotiating deals on services such as credit-card processing or navigating HR issues. “Members can call us if they have a problem with anything, and we will try to help them,” Jones says.
By the Numbers
Years that CFIB has been the big voice for small business
CFIB members covering every sector nationwide
Businesses in Canada with fewer than 50 employees
Weekly face-to-face meetings that CFIB field representatives have with small-business owners
Percentage of small-business owners who say excessive regulations add significant stress to their life
Jones remembers one call in particular from a member who had a sales-tax audit and owed $93,000, though she’d been following governmental advice. “The tax office told her ‘tough luck,’ and she came to us desperate and in tears,” Jones says. CFIB went to battle on the member’s behalf and, a year later, had the entire audit amount reversed. As a further result, CFIB also went on to successfully lobby for a federal taxpayer fairness code that gives business owners the provision to ask for government advice in writing and, even if wrong, the advice will be respected.
“After we helped her, I remember the owner saying, ‘I had no idea I belonged to an organization that would fight so hard for me,’” Jones says. “But that is what CFIB does—we work hard to help small businesses because they are working hard to make a living and serve their community, and we believe they deserve respect.”
One of Jones’s personal passions is leading the fight against “red tape” at all levels of government, leading her to champion a Red Tape Awareness Week as part of CFIB’s initiatives. “Red tape is second only to taxes in the list of concerns for small-business owners, so we wanted to make it a priority in our work,” Jones explains. “Bad government regulations that have high cost and no value or create unnecessary delays are a daily issue for business owners and take away from their business and personal time.”
Looking ahead, Jones says that one of CFIB’s main challenges will be how the organization continues to attract new members while remaining relevant to current members; however, one part of her job will never change. “When facing a particularly tough tax fight several years ago, I was told we would never win—but we did,” she says. “That’s my job—to increase the odds of winning every day for the small-business owners of Canada.”